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Social workers say they will leave the profession if agency reforms enacted

A new survey finds as many as 40% of social workers on temporary agency contracts would leave the profession if the proposed government reforms go ahead.

26/05/23

Social workers say they will leave the profession if agency reforms enacted

Government reforms could see as many as four-in-ten agency social workers leave the profession entirely, according to new research.

The survey, conducted by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), predicts that the impact of the plans in their current form will see colleagues quit and children receive worse care.

The REC, which describes itself as “the voice of the recruitment industry”, says an increasing number of children’s social workers want to work through agencies because of the flexibility, better rates of pay and more frequent payment.

The organisation notes that the sample size for the survey was small, with just 147 temporary social workers answering, however it says the data is “significant” because it asked specific questions about the Department for Education (DfE) reforms and “captured instant feedback from frontline children’s social workers”.

Kate Shoesmith, REC Deputy Chief Executive, said the survey adds to calls on government to fundamentally review the proposals.

“Social workers turn to agencies primarily to help them manage their work/life balance. We need to recognise the reasons why social workers make this choice and then we, the recruitment sector, will happily work with government and others on better solutions than the ones in this consultation.

“The loss of agency staff in anything like the proportion indicated by this survey will give vulnerable children even less chance of getting the care they need.

“Half of the agency workers who responded and said that these reforms would make them leave the profession, are over 46 years old. This is a blow to a government that is keen to retain over 50s in the workforce to help overcome labour shortages and grow the economy.”

Earlier this year, the government proposed a number of measures, including introducing price caps for agency social worker pay as part of its response to recommendations in the Care Review.

The plans were outlined in a consultation paper on tackling the social work sector’s ‘overreliance’ on agency workers.

“There are also many excellent social workers working for a local authority via an agency who are delivering for vulnerable children and families as part of the workforce,” the consultation paper said.

“However, overreliance on agency social work resource has led to workforce instability, churn and high costs. This makes it more difficult for social workers to consolidate learning, build expertise and develop quality relationships with children and families. Certain conditions imposed by some agencies, such as capped caseloads and fully remote working, continue to increase pressures on social workers who are permanently employed within local authorities. Such practices embed disparities into the workforce and put at risk stable and sustained relationships with families and colleagues.”

Other proposals from the government include setting acceptable notice periods, a requirement for comprehensive references, and expected levels of post-qualified experience – such as a requirement for a minimum of five years experience working within local authority children’s social care before graduates can take on an agency appointment.

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